Thoughts On: Venice Biennale 2017 (Part One: Ryszard Winiarski)

Ryszard Winiarski

Event-Information-Image at Palazzo Bollani, Venice Biennale Collateral Events 2017

Installation View from Event-Information-Image (Winiarski Retrospective) Photo: Wladimiro Speranzoni

The titular Zdarzenie – informacja – obraz (Event-Information-Image) was Ryszard Winiarski’s 1966 diploma thesis. Winiarski trained initially at the at the Warsaw University of Technology within the Faculty of Precision Mechanics, later studying at the Acaedmy of Fine Arts in the Painting Faculty. His approach to fine art practice work is a marvel of philosophy and scientific method that has been inspiring my own practice since I visited the Biennale last September.

Presented out-with the Giardini and Arsenale venues, this retrospective was the first exhibition that I stumbled across. The exhibition was laid out somewhat chronologically - in the first room hung several of Winiarski's earlier works in 2D along with games he designed for audience participation; and in the second there was displayed later works in which he began to use his methods to produce more complex forms. Initially Winiarski played with the binary combination of black and white; relying on a square format for his work - a definite, solid shape. Later he would take this basic premise, and extrapolate it out to include colour and 3D elements. 

Winiarski had always put his methodology at the forefront of the presentation of his Areas. He wanted the audience to understand that the result was not the most important aspect of the work - but his translation of the way he believed chance (indeterminism) governs our lives. Initially each Area was accompanied by a text explaining his methodology: this evolved into the audience participatory project Gry (Games) composing of several sets playable by the audience. To allow the games to be played by two people, as opposed to by himself in order to create his Areas, he included a second colour (in the case of the Biennale this colour was red).The games laid out for participation within in the retrospective were initially invented for a 1972 exhibition in the Contemporary Gallery, Warsaw

The main body of Winiarski's work concentrates on his development of a way to translate scientific notions from statistics, game theory and events into a language of Art. He used his work as a search for pure beauty - creating without interference of human feeling/emotion - fostering an environment where chance instead of aesthetics would dictate the end results. In this way he saw life reflected, as a series of outcomes without entirely premeditated cause.

One of my Game Results from the Exhibition
His works have been described as “frigid, objective, free from emotion and subjectivity” but that is not what I gained from them. Initially, through their rigid forms and certainty of presence, his paintings do seem colder - but when you approach the interactive games, this changes. It was on great importance to Winiarski that the viewer would understand the strict methodologies and philosophy behind his creations. There is a warmth within the act of opening out and sharing his methods through the games: an invitation within the provision of considered space for his audience to understand him.

I was very taken with the games, and Winiarski's approach to setting up parameters to play within. Interacting with Winiarski's work has had a large impact on my own practice. I have tested out some of his Art Games and inspired by them, created some of my own. Having been for a while so invested in making art about the personal, the concept of the placement of the artist and ideas of art-making so far away from the subjectivity and individually interpretive modes and models of “self-expression” has been a refreshing one for me.

In September 2017 I visited the Venice Biennale and discovered many wonderful things. Eight months later I am looking back at what I saw in a four-part series of short writings.

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